Blood Red Skies – Battle for Britain

Warlord Games has expanded their popular World War 2 range of Bolt Action into the skies and the sea. I've done a lot of Bolt Action coverage already here and am keen to try out other scales and settings. I have talked about both systems and their potential position on the market, but today I want to take a look into the starter set of Blood Red Skies.

Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain

The boxed set is priced at 40 GBP and comes with english rules, but Warlord Games offers free PDF downloads of the rules in German and French. The rules themself, at least the Quick Starter Rules, are available as a free download as well. Presentation is very much like a board game, with a plastic tray to hold the gaming components and miniatures them self.

Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain

The set is set up around the Battle of Britain, so you have a small force of British RAF and German Luftwaffe each, consisting of 6 airplanes each. Battle fo Britain, or Luftschlacht um England, how it was called in German, was a military offensive by Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe in 1940/41 with the objective to to compel Britain to agree an negotiated peace settlement. The attacks were run on RAF airfields and infrastructure, along with raids on cities like London, with the Royal Air Force defending the United Kingdom, with the support of the Royal Canadian Air Force. But the game itself is not limited to the Battle of Britain, with lots of further nations involved and covered, so you can play the game with all kinds of air battles within world war 2, like in the Pacific, Mediterranean or North Africa.

Warlord Games actually offered different bundles for the starter set, there was a Battle of Britain set late last year, including an additional squadron of fighters, Pilot Ace and dice per side. Currently there is a Battle in the Pacific bundle online, that adds a Japanese and American squadron, Pilot Ace and dice, but due to the Brits and Germans in the starter set not the ideal composition.

In total there is the following content in the box:

  • 12 colored plastic fighter aircraft (6 Spitfire's and 6 Messerschmitt's)
  • 12 clear plastic advantage flying bases
  • 10 combat dice
  • 12 Pilot Skill level discs
  • 3 Gaming booklets: Rules, Expanded rules, Scenarios
  • 45 cards to use in game
  • 38 markers to use in game
  • A set of tools: a movement template, rangefinder and navigation calliper
  • 6 Clouds / Air defence balloons clusters
  • 3 Blenheim IV / Dornier Do17 Z2 bombers
  • 2 Quick Reference sheets.

Of the three booklets, the Rules are available for free in English, German and French as mentioned above. The markers and tokens are printed on solid card board, with making use of both sides, for example the Blenheim and Dornier are on the same punch out but opposite sides of the print. There is a large box sized reference / quick sheet with the most important stats and rules.

Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain

The card deck consists out of different smaller decks, covering ace skills and three different kind of action cards; theatres, doctrines and aircraft traits, along with larger cards for the plane profil stats. And there are ten white combat dice, these are available as faction dice as well. So you can add or replace them with British combat dice or German combat dice.

Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain

Next move on to the tokens. There are three bombers, double sided with the German Dornier Do17 Z2 on one side and the British Blenheim IV on the other side. Then there are the triangular high cover tokens, the winged zoom token and round boom token. The Navigation and Measurement tokens are available as acryl upgrades as well. The clouds are double sided as well and used as scenic elements, with a barrage balloons on the other side. Then there are twelve pilot skill discs, double sided as well with skill level of the pilot (between 2 to 5).

Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain

Blood Red Skies covers their own flying bases, that have the capability to tilt front and back. They have a flat-iron shaped base to fix the pilot skill disc in direction. The flying bases have a small pin to put the plane on top.

Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain

With the starter box you get two different kinds of planes, 6 brown Spitfires and 6 grey Messerschmitts. They are single piece plastic casts and there is a small sheet of stickers to add to the wings. Those are not decals, they are available individually. You wouldn't need the stickers per se, as the colour of the plastic already delivers Foe or Friend identification, and if you paint them, I assume that you wouldn't put stickers on them, but either go with freehand or decals.

Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain Blood Red Skies - Battle for Britain

The rules of Blood Red Skies were written by Andy Chambers. A well known author within the wargaming industry, who worked in the 90s for Games Workshop, in the 00s for Blizzard and currently for several projects with Warlord Games.

We had the chance to play the game last year in the Warlord Games Studio. The basic rules give it a fast pace and you can easily finish a game in 10-15 minutes, but a game with the full rules and 6 planes per side can be played in 45 minutes. The objective for each scenario is to wear down the enemy squadron, you don't need to shoot them all down, there is a moral component to count into. So as soon as the number of boom tokens received by a player is higher than the number of remaining planes in his squadron, we has to withdraw. A boom token is given each time a fighter receives a hit by a shooting attack (weither it is dodged or not) and a plane is shot down.

The main mechanic of the game is set within the three different status of the planes; advantaged (tilt backwards), neutral (up) and disadvantaged (tilt forwards). They translate into the height advantage of the fighters, and in addition of the pilot's skill level the order of activation. Each fighter has access to three basic pilot actions after moving, those are shooting, outmaneuvring and climbing. In combination with special actions, like burning advantage to do special maneuvers (like a 180° turn) or dive (add 6" to your move). The combination of those is interesting, as you can only shoot an enemy that is in front of you and at least one status level below yours (advantage to neutral and disadvantage, neutral only to disadvantage). And that makes BRS a very interesting, as you not just have dog fights, but have to control the whole squadron and put it to use. The combination and synergy of using the planes enables you to decimate your enemy more efficient. So even when you have an ace, he will have his trouble against a lesser skilled pilot using his wingmen. And wingmen is really what describes BRS from my point of view best.

As the rules are available for free, I won't go more into detail, as you can read the 16 pages of the compact basic rules yourself, and would like to cover the Expanded Rules and Scenarios. The rules for advanced players are 12 more pages, adding the action deck into play. These cards cover aircraft traits, to reflect the special features of the planes into play, like the climb rate of the Bf109 or the agility of the Spitfire. Along with theatre cards that cover "local" advantages of either side like radar support, superior armament or clear skies, and doctrines covering seasoned pilots, aggressive or defensive tactics. And then there a named pilots, so called Aces. These are available in single packs, covering a single plane and a small deck of ace cards, including the pilots profile and ace skill cards, who give him signature abilities when making skill tests. Of these ace skills cards 5 are part of the Battle of Britain starter kit, more can be acquired through the expansions.

The third booklet covers the scenarios on 16 pages. There is a total of 5 scenarios (Intruder Flight, Dogfight, Fighter Sweep, Bounced! and Escort Duty), an overview for historical theatre cards for the different theatres of war (from NW Europe, to the Mediterranean, Eastern Front and Pacific incl. different time periods). Similar with historical doctrine cards for the US Air Force, RAF, Luftwaffe, Imperial Japanese Navy and Soviet Airforces.

Warlord Games - HQ Store & Studio Warlord Games - HQ Store & Studio

A regular match can be played on a 4 x 4' area. It would have been nice, if they had added a poster as a terrain mat stand-in.  You can scale the game up to quite a size, as the display from last years salute shows, where they used an aircraft carrier of the same scale (1:200) as a centre piece and fought a battle in the pacific around it.

South London Warlords - Salute 2018 Blood Red Skies South London Warlords - Salute 2018 Blood Red Skies South London Warlords - Salute 2018 Blood Red Skies

There was a lot of trouble with the game when it started last year, which is one of the reasons why I postponed this review for so long. As Warlord Games didn't produce the content of this game all by themself, some were outsourced in China, others were supplied by Zvezda (some of the Bombers for example), availability was an issue. First wave sold out quickly and the wait for the replenishment took some time. But a game like this is a challenge for a company like Warlord Games. They are big, but they are not as big as Fantasy Flight, Asmodee or Games Workshop. So you need to make compromise and / or cooperate with other companies. But this causes additional logistic risk. To compensate some of that risk, a part of the planes are now casted in metal, most likely inhouse.

40 GBP doesn't seem cheap at first, but if you compare it to Wings of Glory (which has only 4 planes, but those are prepainted) less than the around 60-70 EUR their starter set sets you back. Compared to the currently most popular "dog fighter" X-Wing it is quite a lot more expensive than the 20-30 EUR. The supplements are definitly cheaper with Blood Red Skies, as you get a squadron for around 20-25 GBP, but aces around the same at 12 GBP.

Blood Red Skies is a solid set of rules and the game play appeals to me. I have only played X-Wing first edition and Wings of War back in the day, but I like the mechanics of BRS, that you don't play a handful of individual fighters but a squadron. As mentioned above, the term "wingman" is something that is very present. Depending on your needs and likes, you can use the expanded rule sets or stay with the basic set of rules, play them as a series of games by itself, tie them in for example with Bolt Action (or any other world war 2 event).

Beyond that, this is one of the entry games, as it could be called a miniature board game, so if you want to get someone in touch with wargaming and the whole world beyond simply gaming, these small airplanes are a good way to see if painting miniatures and such is for you.

Blood Red Skies is a brand of Warlord Games.

The reviewed product item was provided by the manufacturer.

Posted by Dennis B.

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  1. Wow! Thank you! I constantly needed to write on my website something like that. Can I include a fragment of your post to my website?.

  2. As long as you give me credit / state the source, feel free to do so.

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